Slow living, even if we don’t know quite what it is we’ve surely all heard the term by now. What started in during the 1980s and 1990s as a movement inspired primarily by ideals related to food (sustainable, local, organic and whole) has grown to encapsulate a lifestyle that emphasises slower approaches to all aspects of everyday life. Never has slow living been needed more than in the fast living, multi tasking, attention span shredding times we live in. Consider the major trends that have emerged from the shadows in the 21st century, yoga, wellness, mindfulness, clean eating and meditation to name but a few. All of these practices attempt to bring our attention back to the present, to concentrate our awareness and just be, rather than do. The popularity of all suggests we are at least trying to restore some balance to our daily routines in the hopes that maybe we can gain some equilibrium and peace back for our frazzled, ungrounded selves. Jamie Oliver got super stuck in to this idea and did it brilliantly with his Jamie does the good life series (organic courgettes anyone?), and you can’t move in a bookshop today without seeing a Jon Kabat-Zinn (top western mindfulness guru) book somewhere. This is all well and good, but I can’t help but wonder, where in all of this is the art, the creativity? Where is the music, the music educators and where especially is the piano?
Given that some pianos take one whole year just to build, their absence in the current revival of all things authentic and organic puzzles me, it really does. Surely pianos are a great symbol of everything the slow living zeitgeist celebrates. Handbuilt, artsian, traditional, and that is just the construction of the thing. Playing it and interacting physically with the piano takes slow living to a whole other level. That’s because learning something new, whether you are a beginner or a concert pianist takes time. Not only does it take time, it takes effort, concentration and awareness. So you are applying concentrated awareness just like in the practice of mindfulness but at the same time you are also creating your own music from the ground up. How satisfying is that?! Rather than passively consuming the latest x factor offerings you are physically interacting with the piano to create something entirely personal.
The health benefits of slower living are advocated by many, and yet there are similar known health benefits of playing the piano which are much less widely known. For example, did you know that, ‘learning an instrument improves discipline, self confidence, focus, problem solving, language, literacy, maths and personal wellbeing’. Additional benefits include improved memory, time management skills and coordination. Learning an instrument was also associated with decreased stress and greater happiness in your life and that of those around you (research by Susan Hallamm, professor of education at UCL). Recent studies into the benefits of playing the piano also found it improved the quality of life for people diagnosed with Parkinsons disease. You only have to be with someone while they are practicing a new passage of music to see that the striving for something in the realm of rhythm, tone, and phrasing lifts them out of the usual mental space of the 21st century, and when they return they are not the same. Learning music and playing music changes us, some unquantifiable, unsellable part of us and that is a good thing.
Of course, I am not the first person to notice or comment on the value of bringing back more traditional ideas associated with music. Neil Young recently famously campaigned against the downgraded sound quality of today’s recorded music, arguing that in the translation of the music something essential was lost due to poor quality recordings. Music educator and blogger Colleen Young is a staunch advocate of enjoying music through the medium of vinyl and argues that ‘Humans are meant to interact with things in a physical manner. In a time of screens (like this one) the physical experience of holding a book in your hands, or sliding a record out of its sleeve and placing it on the turn table are extremely satisfying’. These are good examples of what could be termed ‘slow music’ appreciation. Another interesting example of slow music is the band Rising Appalachia, this Atlanta based band toured their 2015 album ‘Wider Circles’ using Amtrak train, I love this idea of literally slowing down the pace of a tour. The band also strive to incorporate slow living ideals into their gigs, with local produce and local non profit, education and arts organisations invited to their shows. This is a timely illustration of how music and the ideals of slow living are complimentary, it also perfectly demonstrates how the two can be woven together to create something new and exciting and maybe even beautiful.
So how about the piano and slow living? well if you are looking for something that is really organic and contributes to overall wellbeing, learning the piano just might be the next big thing. It focuses the mind in a singularly satisfying and creative manner and can also bring a new level of sociability to a household. The piano can be enjoyed with friends, children and partners in a collaborative way that challenges our current habits of isolation. In his book ‘How To Play The Piano’ James Rhodes describes the benefits of piano playing in the following way; ‘The lovely consequence of pursuing a creative activity is that, by its very definition, it looks inside of us rather than outside – it is a kind of stillness meditation for the soul. When you’re sitting there at your keyboard, you’re not going to be tweeting or liking Facebook posts, nor are you going to be assaulted by adverts, eating fast food, staring at cat videos online or watching Americas next top model. It’ll be you, focused, immersed, losing time in a good way, tapping into that potential we all have to release our inner creativity’. James Rhodes is a passionate ambassador of the benefits of playing the piano, especially as an antidote to the relentlessly fast paced 21st century. The piano as an essential component of wellness? We think he might be on to something. Now, if we could just get Jamie Oliver on board…
What do you think? how does the piano enhance your life? how could we utilise the benefits of the piano in our daily lives? Please send any comments, thoughts or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org